Every year, Arlene DeBrito and her employees spend two days preparing almost 100 flavors of homemade chocolates and hand-dipped apples to sell at the Las Vegas Harvest Festival.
Although it is a seven-and-a-half-hour drive from her headquarters in Hollister, Calif., to Las Vegas, she says coming to the annual Harvest Festival in Las Vegas is worth it.
“I have gotten a wonderful response from Las Vegas,” she says. “I do shows all over and Las Vegas has some of my favorite people.”
The Las Vegas Harvest Festival returns Friday through Sunday at Cashman Center. More than 250 vendors will be featured.
The Harvest Festival has been around 42 years, starting in San Francisco.
“We never imagined how much this event would grow,” Harvest Festival manager Nancy Glenn says. “Now we hold eight shows in California, and one in Nevada. We’re so proud to have a wonderful group of talented craftspeople and loyal attendees year after year.”
Brenda Meehan, who promotes the event, says the festival features more than 24,000 handmade arts and crafts ranging from woodturning, blown glass and jewelry to specialty foods, antiques and decor.
“They’re all made in the United States,” she adds.
An estimated 17,000 to 20,000 people are expected to come through the event.
“It’s a one-stop shop,” Meehan says. “It’s perfect for a family shopping weekend or a day out with the girls. There is tons of family friendly entertainment as well.”
The event has been at Cashman Center for 18 years, in Las Vegas for 27 years.
The Las Vegas festival, Meehan says, is an opportunity for mom and pop businesses to get the word out about their products.
DeBrito has used the event to introduce her company, DeBrito Chocolate Factory, which started 23 years ago when she began making chocolate-covered apricots as a Christmas present for her husband’s co-workers.
Along with hand-dipped fruit, she started making caramel apples.
“I have been making caramel apples long before that,” she says. “When I was younger, I used to give them to my brothers as torture by cooking the caramel too long so they couldn’t eat them. I’d laugh as I’d watch them try. But I don’t make them for torture anymore.”
She then bought machinery and decided to start a businesses.
To get the word out, she decided to travel to Harvest Festivals and farmers markets around the country to showcase her products.
Las Vegas has been on her list for almost 15 years.
“I now have employees so preparing for it is easier,” she says. “We usually make everything two days before.”
DeBrito Chocolate Factory has more than 100 flavors, some of which are seasonal, that range from the fan-favorite apple pie a la mode to the seasonal pumpkin pie.
“We are still coming up with new ones,” she says. “We introduced a smoky bacon flavor for Father’s Day everyone loved.”
She goes through thousands during the festival.
Even if they don’t eat them on the spot, DeBrito says people can save them for later.
“These have a great shelf life,” she adds. “If you keep them in a fridge, they last about two months.”
And even after shop is closed up at Cashman Center, people can still order online (www.debritochocolate.com).
“Our website stays busy throughout the year,” she adds.
Fred Heminger has been selling his fudge — his business is called Mr. Fudge — at the Las Vegas Harvest Festival since the beginning.
“I believe we’ve done 350 shows,” he says. “Harvest Festival isn’t for the faint of heart.”
He and his wife once sold their fudge in nine candy shops they owned, mostly in California.
“We wanted to advertise our product,” Heminger says. “Instead of doing ads, we decided to bring the product to the people.”
They went to Harvest Festivals around the country promoting their product and gaining more customers.
People would return seeking fan favorites such as chocolate peanut butter, raspberry chocolate or just plain chocolate.
“Frankly, that worked better,” he says. “It turned out to be better than our stores, too.”
But when running those stores became burdensome, they decided to focus just on selling at Harvest Festivals.
“It’s better that way,” he says. “We sell a ton each weekend. Then we tear down our booth and do it all over again the next weekend.”
Even in rougher economic times, Meehan says the event has both maintained vendors and kept a community presence.
Though people return to get some of the same items they purchased last year, Meehan says returning vendors are encouraged to feature new items.
“It’s always great to see a favorite exhibitor launch a new product,” Meehan says.
Meehan adds that although there are lots of items people can find, Harvest Festival is a perfect stop for food lovers.
Some fan favorites besides Mr. Fudge and DeBrito Chocolate Factory include Garlic Festival Foods, Bistro Blends and Brandini Toffee.
Besides being a shopping spot, the event serves as a fundraiser for several nonprofits such as Safe Nest.
Meehan says when people bring in a canned good item they will get $2 off their tickets.
The Sunrise Children’s Foundation is also offering a parcel check and sell bags at the event for additional donations.
Contact reporter Michael Lyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5201. Find him on Twitter: @mjlyle.